After Oprah Winfrey, she of — heck, she’s OPRAH WINFREY, you know her name — told media outlets last week that a shop clerk in Zürich, Switzerland informed her she couldn’t afford to buy a $38,100 handbag, the employee in question is speaking out to deny that story. Winfrey herself has admitted she regretted relaying the tale after the subsequent media brouhaha.
As Oprah tells, it, while she was in town for Tina Turner’s wedding she stopped in at a luxury store, where she asked a sales assistant to show her a certain crocodile handbag designed by Tom Ford. She said the employee steered her toward a cheaper one, saying the bag in question was “too expensive.” That comment had Winfrey and others suggesting racism as a possible motive.
“I’m in a store, and the person doesn’t obviously know that I carry the black card, and so they make an assessment based upon the way I look and who I am,” said Winfrey during a recent interview.
She also added: “I didn’t have anything that said `I have money.’ I wasn’t wearing a diamond stud. I didn’t have a pocketbook. I didn’t wear Louboutin shoes. I didn’t have anything. You should be able to go in a store looking like whatever you look like and say, `I’d like to see this.’ That didn’t happen.”
The owner of the shop tells Reuters, however, that it was all due to a language barrier.
“This is an absolute classic misunderstanding,” the shop owner explained. “This has nothing to do with racism, I am here for everyone and the customer is king.” She and the clerk say that the impression Winfrey got was wrong, because after all — “Who wouldn’t want to sell a purse for 35,000 francs?” said the owner.
The clerk herself spoke to newspaper SonntagsBlick (via the Daily Mail) and said she’s been caught up in a whirlwind since Winfrey’s story hit the news. She tells it this way: She showed Winfrey some bags and explained that they all came in different sizes and materials.
“She looked at a frame behind me. Far above there was the 35,000 Swiss franc crocodile leather bag,” she recalled to the paper. “I simply told her that it was like the one I held in my hand, only much more expensive, and that I could show her similar bags. It is absolutely not true that I declined to show her the bag on racist grounds. I even asked her if she wanted to look at the bag.”
Since the incident splashed its way across headlines and entertainment talk shows, Winfrey has expressed regret for talking about it in the first place.
“I think that incident in Switzerland was just an incident in Switzerland,” Winfrey told reporters on Monday night. “I’m really sorry that it got blown up. I purposefully did not mention the name of the store. I’m sorry that I said it was Switzerland.”
Swiss luxury shop denies racism towards Oprah [Reuters]
‘Oprah’s a liar': Sales assistant in Swiss racist handbag row denies telling TV host that she could not view item because she couldn’t afford it [Daily Mail]
Oprah Winfrey apologizes for naming Switzerland in store racism incident: I’m sorry ‘it got blown up’ [New York Daily News]